Ireland’s Honey Bees May Face Extinction

In October last year the ‘Protection of the Irish Honey Bee Bill’ came before the Oireachtas. 

The Bill, which is now in its second stage, is intended to “ban the importation of non-native honey bees with the aim of reducing the threat to and adverse impact upon biodiversity and the ecosystem arising from the introgression/crossing/cross-breeding of the native Irish Honey Bee, ‘Apis mellifera mellifera’.

According to the National BioDiversity Data Center, “More than half of Ireland’s bee species have undergone substantial declines in their numbers since 1980.  The distribution of 42 species has declined by more than 50%.”

Only one of the 99 bee species recorded in Ireland is native. Of these, bees native to each individual country or region can be described as ‘ecotypes’, as they display characteristics “finely adapted to their specific environment”.

The Bill is intended to “ban the importation of non-native honey bees with the aim of reducing the threat to and adverse impact upon biodiversity and the ecosystem arising from the introgression/crossing/cross-breeding of the native Irish Honey Bee, ‘Apis mellifera mellifera’

Apis mellifera mellifera or Dark European honey bees, are native to the continent, and widespread conservation practices have been implemented across Western Europe in an attempt to protect the species which a study published in the Journal of Apicultural Research says “is increasingly threatened in its native range”.

The study states that “Previous molecular surveys showed that, despite management strategies to preserve the genetic integrity of A. m. mellifera, protected populations had a measurable component of their gene pool derived from commercial C-lineage honey bees.” and that “despite controlled breeding, some protected populations still require adjustments to the management strategies to further purge foreign alleles,”.

Irish honey bees face a number of threats including habitat loss, the use of pesticides,  and a type of parasite called ‘varro destructers’ which attaches to the body of the bee and weakens the bee by sucking fat bodies.

Hybridisation with foreign introduced bees or subs-pecies can lead to the alternation of genetically acquired adaptations that allow native bees to thrive in the Irish environment.

The Bill, which was brought forward by Green Party Senator Vincent P. Martin, aims to ban the importation of ‘non-native’ honey bees and would “provide for the appointment of authorised officers; to make it an offence to forge an animal health certificate; and to provide for related matters.”

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